If you missed the news this week, Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips announced their latest venture.
It’s a series named “Reckless.” What it’s about is not important. You can take a wild guess what it’s about from the creators’ past history together. You get a period piece, some crime, some pulps, etc.
It’s the format of it that makes the project so interesting.
It’s a new series based on a single character.
Each book is a graphic novel, the first of which clocks in around 144 pages.
Each book tells a standalone story.
They will release three such books in the first year, with five more outlined to be produced (if demand warrants) at whatever speed they deem fit.
Does this sound familiar to you, Pipeline Faithful? Imagine a writer/artist pair working together on a series of albums that tell complete stories with a title character.
Heidi MacDonald compared it to Brubaker’s interest in “The Rockford Files.”
Brubaker compares it to the classic pulp novel heroes.
I think you can guess all the books I’m comparing it to.
I look at this and the comparison is obvious: It’s the European album model coming to North America. They’ve proved it out with two recent projects that were standalone graphic novels (“Pulp” and “My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies“). Now they’re just committing to the format for a longer term.
The typical European album is only 48 pages, with some going up into the 50s or 60s. Brubaker and Phillips will be doubling or nearly tripling that, but they’re also sticking with the standard comic size for their books. If they had pushed the same amount of material onto the larger page size of a European album, It would probably work out to be marginally more. I’m guessing the decision to stay with the standard North American comic size is because it’s what they’re comfortable and familiar working with, and the knowledge that Direct Market retailers are too insular and lazy to carry books of different sizes in numbers that would matter.
Releasing three books in one year is crazy, but “FRNK” did that recently with its first four books, but only after working on it for a year or two in advance of the first book’s release. Phillips just happens to be faster than the average bear, so he can pull this off at a slightly faster pace. (Charlie Adlard and Mark Bagley are the only other two artists I can think of who could come close to that kind of page.)
I can smell a movement starting. More creators are talking about this format. So far, it’s mostly been about the attraction to telling stories in the larger scale without the stop at every 20th page along with the relentless monthly deadlines.
I hope this first wave of creators and books figures that out quickly so they can get started working on and proving out the economic model that makes this work for more creators, particularly ones who haven’t been building an audience successfully for more than two decades together.
It’s fun to watch the old Direct Market cronies complaining about how this format will never work because creators are only getting paid once for their work and there’s no cheap entry point.
Dav Pilkey and Raina Telgemeier sure have been floundering for years under that model, haven’t they?
And now Brubaker and Phillips are doubling down on it.
But the truth is, it will be a slow start. The thing that works in this format is the long term play. There’s a saying in the novel writing community: Nothing sells the back list better than a new book. Capture a person with your style and your characters and your skills and they’ll go back to look for more. That’s when you have them.
From a business point of view, it’s also why trilogies are so popular. It’s much cheaper to retain a customer than to win a new one. Give them more of what they want! And if your series allows for new reader access at any volume, then you’ve just made customer acquisition a whole lot easier for yourself.
The trick the comics world may need to figure out is how to keep the material in print. It’s a new methodology of creating comics in the Direct Market, which hasn’t yet figured out how to order these things. The DM keeps under-ordering.
Will digital be enough to fill the gap? Will print-on-demand come to the rescue? Will crowdfunding be needed to help this along?
We might be waiting on answers to those questions for awhile yet, but it’s certainly a good sign to see some movement in this direction.
It is the opinion of Pipeline Comics that a shift in the Direct Market towards the album format is a good one, from a reader’s point of view. It is also a possible solution for the problems that ail the DM.
I can’t wait to see how this experiment goes…